Spring 2019 Update

It is past time for a blog update! My apologies for not posting sooner, the past year has been quite a trip- literally! Allow me to fill you in.

Spring 2018 – Duke Marine Lab

I spent the spring semester of 2018 at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC. Beaufort is a quaint coastal town located in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The downtown city front (might be an overstatement) looks across Tylor’s Creek to the Rachel Carson Reserve. If you sit long enough, you might be lucky enough to see some of their  26 wild horses. The lab is stationed on Pivers Island, the only other buildings belong to a NOAA Laboratory facility. Spring is a unique semester at the Duke Marine Lab. Classes are in a block schedule, only one class at a time, each lasting for about 4 weeks. Many of these classes offer the opportunity to travel. I was fortunate enough to spend the first course traveling to Belize with Dr. Brian Silliman for Marine Ecology. We spent the first week in the rain forest and the other two weeks our on a caye off the coast. We spent our days lecturing, snorkeling, identifying species, and observing interactions. We completed our time on the island working on research projects. After returning to Beaufort for a few days, we were off on our next adventure to Singapore to study Urban Tropical Ecology with Dr. Tom Schultz and Dr. Dan Rittschof. Exploring such a unique city/metropolitan country was incredible. I was consistently blown away by the utilization of green space in the downtown area. No ground space? No problem. Build a vertical garden on the sides of high rises and establish rooftop gardens. Gardens by the Bay is a wonderful example of creative utilization of space to make the city all the more green. My favorite part of this course was the short trip we took to Malaysia. We crossed the border and drove to a coastal town where we boarded a boat for a long boat ride out to Pulau Dayang. We were the only ones on this island surrounded by brilliant blue water. I have never seen so many diverse species of coral or as many brilliant colors while snorkeling as I did here. From Giant Clams to Cuttlefish to massive neon coral, I was amazed. I would give anything to go back and explore further. We returned to Beaufort for a block at the lab where I took Biology with one of my favorite professors, Dr. Schultz. The last block I spent time in St. Croix working with The St. Croix Leatherback Project on Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge with Dr. Matthew Godfrey. Here we spent the nights walking the beach with team members from 8:00pm to 6:00 am looking for nests and turtles. Some nights were long with no turtles at all, and other nights we would have up to three leatherbacks nesting. We helped measure the turtles, mark nest sites, and tag the turtles. When we found the first turtle, we stayed behind her while she dug her nest as to not disturb her. Once she began laying her eggs, we went to work. As we moved around her, I was finally able to appreciate the sheer size of this animal. The shell alone can reach up to 6 feet in length. Truly an amazing experience never to be forgotten.

Summer 2018 –R/V Falkor

If you follow any Ocean Steward social media accounts, you will have seen posts from aboard the R/V Falkor with Schmidt Ocean Institute. I set sail aboard the R/V Falkor on a voyage up the coast from San Diego, CA to Astoria, OR mapping methane seeps with chief scientist Susan Merle (OSU) as a student scientist. There were also artists on board working with the crew and scientists to present research in their respective media from murals to sculptures to resin paintings. This was a fascinating experience. So often research is difficult to comprehend and intimidating, as a result, many people are not up to date on the most recent research. These scientists present the work in such a way that it draws attentions and sparks curiosity in the audience. Curiosity is the first step toward engagement. While on board, I presented to the Rotary Club of Coronado during a ship to shore FaceTime. I learned to appreciate the work we were doing in a different way. It truly is beautiful.

Fall 2018 – Duke Marine Lab

I returned to the lab for another round! However, this semester was disrupted by Hurricane Florence that devastated the lab for some time. The students were evacuated to main campus where we stayed for four weeks until the lab was restored enough for us to resume classes. At this point the campus dorms were still destroyed, so we lived in a hotel for a few weeks while repairs were made. The lab faculty and staff deserve all the credit for making it possible for us to return. For a time, it looked as if we would not be able to return, but everyone pitched in and made it possible it happen. We are all grateful for the time and effort they spent restoring the lab, moving our items out of rooms to prevent damage not once, but twice. We owe the semester to these wonderful people. Fall at the marine lab is set up like a normal semester. All classes occur at once without travel components. However, Fall Break at the marine lab is extended so students may participate in a travel course. I was part of a travel course that traveled to Bocas del Toro, Panama. We spent the days on boats going from site to site collecting data and snorkeling. Evenings were spent data crunching with further analysis. Having opportunities like this sets Duke apart. Being able to get back to hands-on science and work in the field is always refreshing. Upon return we resumed our normal classes. I began my research with Dr. Avery Paxton in Dr. Silliman’s lab – a project collaborating with NOAA to map artificial reefs in the Southeast US. This project is ongoing and will be my senior thesis so stay tuned!

Spring 2019 – Duke

After a year away, I returned to main campus in Durham, NC. I am continuing my research with Dr. Paxton remotely. Classes are normal and stressful, as to be expected. However, I managed to find another unique opportunity to travel and do research. I found an opportunity to take a course with Dr. Stuart Pimm, Seabird Dispersal and Analysis, with a travel component to Dry Tortugas National Park. Dry Tortugas is located 67 miles west of Key West. This is a breeding site of the Sooty Tern. A massive banding effort has been going on for years now. Duke has been assisting this project since 2015. Every spring break, Dr. Pimm takes students to the island for a week. Days are spent out at the breeding site catching birds in nets, banding them, and recording the band number and weight. This season we managed to catch 590 birds total. While I was not the best at catching birds, I found my strength in running birds up and down the beach to be banded. At times we had so many birds being caught we had to have three people running and even still we were backed up. I cannot say enough about the beauty of the birds and island. We were truly fortunate to have this opportunity.

Music: Darwin Derby by Vulfpeck


There is more travel in my future as the summer I as I will be completing my NOAA Hollings Scholarship Internship in Saipan, CNMI working on a research project involving invasive catfish. Stay tuned and as always – and be an Ocean Steward.  

~ D’amy Steward

The Ocean Steward